ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart doesn’t care what others might say or think, he has his own perception of the threat the Vols’ pose in one of the SEC’s most bitter rivalries.
The teams meet at 3:30 p.m. at Sanford Stadium on Saturday (TV: CBS; Radio: WSB 95.5 FM, 750 AM).
“Some people look at Tennessee and say certain things,” Smart said at his Monday press conference at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. “I look at Tennessee and say that’s a really well-coached, hard-nosed fundamental football team that’s coming in here off a situation where they had however many turnovers.
“The focus for our players is this is always a tough physical game, it’s always this kind of way, it’s been close for years, and we have to worry about us and we have to correct our mistakes and our problems.”
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (4-0, 2-0 SEC) are coming off a 43-29 win at Missouri that saw them yield a season-high 172 yard rushing at a 4.6 yards-per-carry clip.
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) is coming off a 47-21 loss to Florida, but Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said he saw positive signs, and Smart echoed those sentiments.
“I saw guys that kinda had a look in their eye that were competing, that were doing their best,” Pruitt said after the loss Saturday night. “That’s a good thing, so I think that’s something we can build on. Am I happy the way the game turned out? No, but we’re trying to build a program here.”
Smart, who was on Nick Saban’s Alabama staffalongside Pruitt from 2007-2012, identified the physical style the Vols prefer.
“I think Jeremy is doing a good job there, certainly being a physical football team, you can see that identity created in what they are trying to create and how they run the ball and what they try to do,” Smart said. “They are certainly on the right track with the physicality they are trying to do things with on both sides of the ball.”
Smart wants to see more physicality from his own team, and he’s not putting much stock in the final margin of Tennessee’s loss to Florida.
“Without those [six] turnovers it’s probably a different game,” Smart said. “I see the physicality they are trying to run the ball with and stop the run.
“You can tell the way they are committed to the run, each game they have gone up with the number of runs they had, and we didn’t exactly do what we needed to stop the run last week or run the ball, so our concern is us.”